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Pasta Perfect

Gnocchi, those toothsome, pillowy puffs that hold a sauce so beautifully, were named for nocchio, the Italian word for knots of wood, proof that inspiration and reality are entirely subjective. No matter. As with so many foods with a vaguely luxurious quality that transcends their humble ingredients, we have the Romans to thank for the small flour- based dumplings.

Followers of chef Kyle Focken will immediately note the replacement of lump crabmeat with shrimp in this interpretation of his popular menu staple at The Elysian Bar. Though the result is different from the original, it is delicious nonetheless and the use of shrimp makes the dish more accessible (affordable) to the home cook for everyday meals. Should you choose to splurge, substitute one pound of jumbo lump crabmeat (carefully picked over to remove shells and cartilage) for the shrimp called for here.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Calabrian Chili

Adapted from Chef Kyle Focken, The Elysian Bar

Serves 8

4 cups whole-milk ricotta
4 cups all-purpose flour
8 egg yolks
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup shallots, brunoise (see Notes)
2 cups deseeded Calabrian chilis with no stems, minced (see Notes)
4 cups vegetable stock
1 pound peeled and deveined 21-25 count Gulf shrimp (see above)
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
Salt and lemon to taste (start with 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
Chives for garnish

1. Combine the ricotta, flour, egg yolks, eggs, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until a slightly firm dough is achieved. If working by hand, combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead. 

2. Shape the dough into a round disk with your hands, then transfer it to a lightly-floured cutting board and sprinkle the dough lightly with flour. Using a knife or a bench scraper, cut the dough into eight even pie wedges. Then using your hands, gently roll out each wedge out into an even log, approximately 3/4-inch wide. Cut each log into individual bite-sized little gnocchi pillows. Lightly dust the gnocchi with flour once more and give them a quick toss so that they are all lightly coated with flour. This will help prevent them from sticking together.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain the slightest simmer while you make the sauce.

4. Add the oil to a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sweat until translucent and fragrant, about 10 minutes. 

5. Add the Calabrian chilis and the vegetable stock and cook until the sauce is reduced by one fourth, about 20 minutes.

6. Crank up the heat under the pot of salted water and return it to a boil.

7. While the water comes to a boil add the shrimp to the sauce and cook them until firm, pink, and opaque, about 6 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat. Add the butter and stir until melted. Cover the sauce to keep it hot.

8. Working in batches, if necessary, carefully add the gnocchi to the boiling water. They are ready when they float to the top, about 30-60 seconds.

9. Drain the gnocchi (give them a gentle shake to knock off the water) and add them to the sauce.

10. Taste the gnocchi and sauce and correct the seasoning with salt and lemon juice to taste.

11. Garnish with snipped chives and serve at once.

  1. The brunoise is the finest dice—but not so fine as a mince—and is derived from the julienne. To brunoise, gather the julienned vegetable strips together, then dice into even 3mm cubes. You could also just mince and make it your secret.
  2. The first thing you should consider trying to find if you can’t locate Calabrian chilis is Calabrian chili paste. Red chili flakes, Serrano peppers and Ahaheim pepper are also suitable substitutes. Just add the replacement chilis in small amounts (start with 1/4 cup) until your desired heat/flavor is reached.
  3. Homemade gnocchi are generally consumed the same day they are made. However, they can be cut into pillows, spread evenly on a baking sheet, frozen, then quickly packaged in a zip-top bag and returned to the freezer for up to one month. Just toss the frozen gnocchi into boiling salted water and fish them out when they rise to the surface.

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